Year 8: Bushcraft Trip Teaches Survival Skills and Much More!

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Imagine a grassy meadow, surrounded by woods and bathed in the golden light of late summer, where semi-circles of neat bell-tents cluster round two white yurts, with smoke from their fires curling up into the air.

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If you can conjure this image then you will see the scene that greeted us when Year 8 arrived for their Bushcraft Experience in the wilds of deepest Kent, (Leeds Castle grounds, to be exact!)

The children we were greeted by a team of eight experts in Bushcraft and country lore who divided the children into two tribes, the yurts becoming the meeting place and home for each tribe.

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The purpose of the adventure is to introduce young people to the skills needed to survive in the wild and also to return them to a more simple way of life, away from the comforts and distractions of modern technology, where they can discover their own strengths and weaknesses and learn the importance of working and living together as a community.

The first lesson was how to build a fire from scratch and how to build a weatherproof shelter. Fires were quickly lit, lunch cooked on them and then a lesson given on how to use knives safely to make useful items like tent pegs.

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Shelters were constructed in the woods, in which most of the children spent that first night, guarded by the tribe leaders and warmed by central fires, if also bitten by midges!

We also learned how to parnass a salmon, removing the skeleton, until all that was left was a large square of fish, which was skewered onto sticks and slowly cooked over the yurt fires… delicious!

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Concealment and camouflage and tracking and traps were other essential survival skills learned, with an exciting night game in the woods where children had to reach lamp marker-points, without being spotted by the tribe leaders.

The sounds of the hunt rang merrily through the dark trees!

"That was the best part!" said one child enthusiastically.

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There were other games too: tag and chase, catapulting and archery, all in the open spaces of the meadow and all skilfully and safely organised. In fact, organisation, safety and knowledge were the hallmarks of the team.

The leaders were firm, professional and fun and a fascinating walk through the hedgerow revealed all kinds of edible berries and useful trees: the sap of the willow, for example, contains aspirin!

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The team had impressive knowledge of the natural world around us and were excellent teachers and story-tellers, especially in the yurt at night, when blood-curdling stories usually came to a comic end.

There were ridiculous moments too, as when we woke up one morning to find a long queue of sheep outside the portaloo and when volunteers agreed to eat the uncooked eyes of the salmon with much grimacing. Brave!

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Talking about eating, the team also included two excellent cooks, who prepared amazing, healthy, freshly-cooked meals three times a day. It was refreshing to eat only simple food and to drink just fresh water.

There was a sense of sadness when we left. It had been great fun and truly fascinating; the children were very well behaved and learned a great deal of skills and knowledge, not just about the countryside, but more importantly about themselves.

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We were all looking forward to having a good bath, but wishing that we could come again.

I hope we will. 

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